Monday, March 28, 2011

Inuyasha: Season 2

Due to the long running nature of this show, there WILL be some spoilers in this review and the reviews to follow related to subsequent seasons. Read at your own risk, you have been warned.


Okay, now that that's out of the way, welcome back for the review of the second season of Inuyasha. Since we already did introductions in the previous review you can access it by either clicking on this link here, or going down to the list of reviewed anime and clicking on the label marked "Inuyasha." In case you forgot, Inuyasha was produced by Sunrise based on the manga by Rumiko Takahashi, and is licensed in the U.S. by Viz Media. Now that we've taken care of attributions, let's head back down the well. That scattered McGuffin...   ahem...  I mean, those sacred jewel shards...  aren't gonna wait around forever.


Kagome: Inuyasha...
Inuyasha: Kagome...
Kagome: Stop it with this Kikyo obsession,
you do know she's dead right? It's creeping me out!
When we last left our heroes (sure Inuyasha pretends he's a villain but he should really stop kidding himself), Sango had finally joined the party, and the Inu-nakama was continuing its search for the Jewel of Four Souls, and the real villain of the piece Naraku. Almost immediately things get ugly. What's the first thing that happens in this season's first episode? Why Miroku succumbs to lechery and ends up getting attacked and making his wind tunnel bigger, which is very BAD, because the more that thing widens, the sooner he's going to bite it. So he has to deal with that. What happens in the next episode? They find a slaughtered village (refer to my quip in the first review about Japan's feudal population) and how did this tragedy come about? Naraku's revived Sango's dead brother with a jewel shard and had him kill everyone, giving Sango even more to angst about. What happens in the next few story arcs? Well, it is safe to say things get progressively worse. (But let's face it, that's part of the fun.) When Naraku shows up he forces Sango to make a choice between sparing Kohaku's life by stealing Inuyasha's Tetsusaiga, or allowing him to die because he'll take the sacred jewel shard out of his back. Things get progressively tougher as Kikyo shows up after Naraku tries to corrupt her and use her to steal the jewel shards, which she ends up doing, giving Naraku even more evil powers, though it turns out she's just trying to enact her own ploy to destroy him along with the jewel, killing two birds with one stone. Naturally, this ploy causes a lot of friction between Inuyasha and Kagome because neither of them want to think ill of Kikyo but they are really distressed that Naraku's getting some new powers, and some of them are potentially very nasty as a result of his having more shards.


Sorry Sango, but from now on, any future interaction
with your brother will automatically be labeled "trap."
As the first season spent so much time introducing the main characters, we get a lot of emphasis in this season on many of the supporting characters, rivals and antagonists that live around the area. Surprisingly, filler is actually quite minimal, with the episode about Jinenji the half demon that runs a nearby herb garden being the only true distraction. But there are a whole bunch of other characters who make their first appearances as well. Naturally, there's Kohaku, Sango's younger brother who made a very brief and tragic appearance at the end of season one, who is little more than Naraku's pawn at this point, as the trauma of killing all the other slayers and dying shortly after has left him begging to forget everything. Naraku has obliged, perhaps a bit too well. But we also get the introduction of Rin, a young human girl whom Sesshoumaru allows to travel with him and Jaken after the introduction of his sword Tenseiga, which can only revive the dead, making it useless to him (which is why he's so obsessed with Tetsusaiga). Rin finds him while he recovers after one of his fights with Inuyasha but she is killed by wolves, which leads Tenseiga to prompt Sesshoumaru to revive her when he comes across her later. Out of that same fight, we also get introduced to Totosai, an old fire-breathing friend of Myoga's who happens to also have been the one who forged Tetsusaiga and Tenseiga in the first place, from the fangs of Inuyasha's father. 


As if Naraku wasn't bad enough, now he not only
has his own goon squad, but he made it out of himself!...  
Eww...
We also get the introduction of a number of new antagonists following Kikyo's handing the nakama's jewel shards over to Naraku. Following Rin's introduction to Sesshoumaru's nakama, we soon meet the wolf demon Koga, who initially possesses three jewel shards but loses one in the course of the arc that introduces him. I can't say I care too much for how they handled Koga from a moral perspective. Maybe it's just me, but I think it's a little too easygoing to forgive someone for slaughtering a whole village and maybe other villages off-screen, just because he's sworn off eating humans lately because he's fallen for Kagome. All this situation seems to have accomplished is to make the love triangle between Inuyasha, Kagome, and Kikyo, into a trapezoid with dotted lines on one angle. Koga thinks he's in the running but all I see him doing is fighting with Inuyasha and causing conflict. I don't see it happening. To make things worse, Naraku decided manipulating him was an excellent excuse to introduce some of his spiffy new minions which he can now create out of his flesh thanks to those jewel shards and spending an episode or two making himself a new body (we'll look at that later). The first of these, a demon wind-sorceress called Kagura, promptly slaughters most of Koga's wolves giving Naraku yet another plaything to torment...  um I mean another enemy whose out to kill him. After the introduction of Kanna, an aura-less demon who represents the void, most of his other incarnations or minions are totally temporary. Though, Goshinki the mind reading giant lizard...  ogre... thing...  did have some interestingly unforeseen things happen because of his intervention.


Miroku: Sango, did you just ask me
to ask you to bear my children?
The Tiger: Oh boy, this can only end badly.
As if the main plot was not crazy enough, we've got a number of sub-plots developing at this point. Among them we have hints of a little romance between Miroku and Sango (his lechery notwithstanding), and the interplay between Inuyasha and Kagome as they try to negotiate their relationship and how it relates to Kikyo.   For those who prefer war to love, there's some more interesting stuff going on in relation to Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru's swords. With the introduction of Totosai, Inuyasha learns about and gains to ability to use a special attack with his Tetsusaiga called the Kaze no Kizu, or the Windscar in the English version. This leads to the introduction of Sesshoumaru's sword as mentioned above. Sometime later in the series this comes back with the introduction and subsequent death of Goshinki. See, during the fight, he bit the sword and it broke. (Inuyasha really needs to take better care of his heirlooms.) Although apparently the sword was bequeathed to him for a reason because apparently it keeps him from going on homicidal rampages when backed into a corner. Needless to say, after that Goshinki was toast. Even though Tetsusaiga get's repaired later, Sesshoumaru takes Goshinki's fangs and makes an evil sword of his own called Tokijin. For the remainder of the season, Inuyasha has trouble using his sword because Totosai used one of his fangs to fix it, until he faces Ryukotsusei in the final story arc and learns another spiffy new move called the Bakuryuha, or the Backlash Wave. However, in the meantime, because he hasn't relearned how to use the sword yet, the transformations into a demonic ax-crazy maniac persist, much to his concern as well as the concern of those around him.


Epic heirloom sword: One eyeball being excruciatingly
ripped open and opening a warp to the underworld.
Destroying an enemy even Daddy couldn't kill: Priceless.
There were a number of things I really liked about this season. I like that it stuck to the plot for the most part and wasn't taking so many non-pivotal side-trips as in the first season. It was also nice to see a bit more of the character development and the interplay between the different groups as they developed. Having lots of space to get into that sort of thing really helps. Among the little things are Kagome's interactions with her schoolmates in the present. By the end of the season they are almost all convinced that Inuyasha is some kind of juvenile delinquent which really works for comedy. But perhaps my favorite thing about this season was the individual character arcs for Sango, Kagome, and Inuyasha. Sango has this ongoing story about trying to find her brother and her inner conflict about the horrible things he's done while under Naraku's control. Kagome has her plot with trying to deal with her feelings about Inuyasha and Kikyo that is continuously bubbling just below the surface, and her own confusion about what's going on gives her a lot of personal conflict. Inuyasha doesn't just have that to deal with. He also has to deal with the shock of turning into a monster that he can't control. At first he's really cavalier about it but eventually he realizes that he can no longer stay in denial. He has to learn to use Testsusaiga again, because there are no other alternatives. This in itself is an important growing point for his character and very satisfying to watch. Not to mention, it is pretty awesome to be able to see him take on Ryukotsusei, his father's old enemy, and kill him when you know that even Daddy had a little trouble with that one.


Uh...  Kagome...  the demon's dead, it's time to tell him to sit now...    
he's going after those fleeing bandits, why aren't you saying it?...
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD KAGOME! SAY THE WORD,
BEFORE HE SLAUGHTERS EVERYONE!
This being said, there are an equal number of things about this series that were still kind of annoying. For one thing Kagome is still into the inner monologues. (Come on girl, we're not 5 years old, you don't have to spell it out for us!) The whole group still likes to use each other's names when talking to each other all the time, so we still get that "Inuyasha!" "Kagome!" stuff for which the series is infamous. (It was funny at first, but it's starting to get old.) There was the Koga thing I talked about before, and then there were a number of times where the characters were standing around talking while the villain of the week was just watching, almost like he was trying to be polite and let them finish. I don't know, maybe Naraku was just being chivalrous? Perhaps the worst thing about this season though, was how little Kagome told Inuyasha to sit. Now I know that sounds weird, so let me explain. This has nothing to do with the comedic stuff. I'm talking about plot related points where the face-plant necklace Inuyasha wears wouldn't just have come in handy, but where it could have saved lives. Like for instance, the third time Inuyasha turns into a demonic harbinger of death, he neatly ripped the demon who brought him to that point to shreds and then promptly starts tearing the human bandits that had been following the demon apart like a dog goes after a new pair of shoes,(sorry, couldn't resist) in front of a bunch of helpless women and children no-less who were likely to be traumatized for life by the horrible slaughter of a bunch of men who had no fight left in them to begin with.  The worst of it couldn't be seen on screen thanks to TV editing, but the rest of the Inu-nakama just stands there in horror and watches. And I'm thinking "Any time now Kagome, you can still stop this!" I mean, telling him to sit worked the first time it happened, and the second time, so why didn't she use it here? Same thing happens in the fight with Ryukotsusei. Sure if she said the word then, one could argue that it would take time away from him that he could use to not get crushed, but at least it would get him back out of murder mode and back on track. (In all fairness he eventually did. It wasn't the plot that bothered me it was just the methodology of it, that's all)


I don't have much more to say in terms of style and animation though I did notice a couple of poorly constructed sequences where some of the characters looked like paper cutouts on a screen (not that anime is particularly high budget filming to begin with so I'm just being snarky ^^;). Otherwise, the show is still solid and it's progressing nicely. There's also a new intro and ending introduced. "I Am" by Hitomi and "Dearest" by  Ayumi Hamasaki are both very nice pieces, the second of which may actually be one of my personal favorites out of the themes connected the series. Many of the Japanese voice actors for some of the new characters don't necessarily have huge resumes, but if you're interested in a real time capsule actor Totosai's seiyuu, Jouji Yanami has a rep sheet going back as far as 1963, playing characters like Dr. Gilmore in the Cyborg 009 anime from 1968 and Dr. Briefs in Dragonball which was made during the 1980's. (What can I say? Stuff like that interests me. ^^) The English dub continues to do it's job well, though after having seen the Japanese dub all the way through I'm actually starting to like it better. I'm still having fun, and that's what counts. See you guys next month when we get into season 3.


Images taken from Inuyasha.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Exploring Japanese Culture: "So What's With the School Uniforms?" and other Pedagogical Mysteries.

Seriously, real schools don't actually have giant robots,
not to say that it wouldn't be totally awesome if they did!
Hey everyone, this week we're trying something new again. Just for fun. A lot of the time we'll see things in anime and manga that have a basis in real life, whether we know it or not. (It can be hard to tell with all those giant robots running around like this one from Code Geass here. ^^) Since this can make for some interesting trivia with which to impress your friends, I thought it might be fun to take a look into the cultural side of things and explore where some of this stuff comes from. School plays a huge roll within the Japanese mindset. From a very young age, education is compulsory and the attributes required to get into college are heavily coveted. Japanese families will spend ridiculous amounts of money on education (not that Americans don't), just for the chance that their children will get into the right schools. Is it any wonder that there are so many anime and manga series that have to do with school, or are at least related to it in some way? Shonen and shojo genre's especially, seem to be obsessed with school (subliminal messaging perhaps?). So given all this emphasis, I've picked out and answered five common questions that the unfamiliar fan may have about Japanese schools. So let's crack open the text books and get started.

As if running around the plains of Musashi
fighting demons with sacred jewel fragments wasn't enough,
Kagome's got the placement exam for high school to worry
about too. It's enough to make you're head spin. 
Why all the emphasis on college and cram school?


Well, the short answer could probably apply to most countries. This being that going to a good school and doing well increases the likelihood of you finding a job, generally. However, it is no secret that the Japanese emphasize this to obsession. And what is the center of all this hullabaloo? Think of them as college specific Japanese SAT's.  The mindset is that if you manage to get into a good school then you can get a nice secure job working your way up the corporate ladder as a salary man. The problem comes because there are so many other students competing for the same spot in many of these colleges and same ideal, that competition is insane. As a result, much of the emphasis and curriculum in earlier levels is geared towards preparation for this critical exam. It is most heavily pushed in high schools, but according to some sources, such as Wiki and educationjapan.org, the emphasis has created so much competition for college that students are even vying for placement in the right high schools in some parts of the country. As a result, we have the institution called cram school, or Juku to use the Japanese word. Now for those of you who don't know what that is, think of it as the Japanese version of a tutoring center. Basically, it's a private company built around helping students prepare for entrance exams, though many will also handle other curricular activities such as language assistance, liberal arts, science and, depending on the company, various other things parents might want their children to have help with. There are many social pressures that often drive parents to send their children to these cram schools in order to improve their preparedness for these exams. . Knowing this, it makes a lot more sense that Kagome is always freaking out about being absent from school due to her time-traveling adventures in the series Inuyasha. Even though she's spending all this time trying to help her friends back in feudal Japan, she's still knows that she's falling behind in school and therefore when she returns to her family in the present, much of the show's drama reverts to her trying her hardest to at least catch up, even if she isn't keeping up. Poor girl.

Considering Kappei Yamaguchi (Shinichi's voice actor)
has a really strong accent, he really didn't do so bad.
I've heard worse.
Are Japanese students really required to learn English?


The short answer is yes. Does that mean fluent English? Well...   not so much. Anyone who watches anime regularly should be able to figure that out. This is why we have Engrish, or Japanisized English. According to Mike Dejong, English is taught primarily in areas of theory over there. In other words, most Japanese students only learn it out of textbooks with a focus on grammar and vocabulary and very rarely have the chance to put it socially or communicatively into practice. As a result, even though the study of English is required from 7th grade through the end of high school, most Japanese are not going to be fluent speakers unless they converse with foreigners often, or have a job that requires them to use English regularly. Anime, anime fans know that even if most Japanese don't speak English, it is still in vogue. Which is why we get some of these wacky, hard-to-understand phrases that anime characters will sometimes belt out with gusto, such as "Oh mai gah!" used in a scene is Azumanga Daioh! or weird attack names such as "Shining Finger!" from the series G-Gundam. Much of the English that is used in anime and manga is grammatically correct, such as in this scene here from episode 162 of Detective Conan, where there's only a couple of slip-ups. (By the way, if you want to watch it to listen to the voice track, there's a youtube video with this scene you can check out. I love this anime but it's so long you'd be watching forever if you tried to find them yourself because it's going on over 600 episodes now.) But you can tell that the voice actors are not used to speaking English and therefore the intonations and pronunciations sound totally weird, making words like "thank you" sound more like "sankyou" and whole sentences in general seem very off. Almost as though they came out of a voice synthesizer.

As you can see by comparing the gakuran
and the suit with the blazer below, it's rather plain,
but plenty of  young heroes still manage
to make it work as a fashion statement.
So what's with the school uniforms?

It's a traditional thing. Japan is known for encouraging conformity, and it shows in the fact that many of their schools still insist on wearing uniforms. Today, most Japanese school uniforms vary depending on the school. More traditional schools tend to favor the gakuran style for the boys and sailor suits for the girls. These designs were derived from Meiji military dress, which themselves were designed based off of the uniforms worn by the Prussian Military. The gakuran, which is that tight-collar jacket with the pants gets its name from the term rangaku, which meant Dutch learning. Before the Meiji restoration, the Japanese only traded with the Dutch and so they equated the Dutch with the West, therefore the translated name of the outfit means "A western student" somewhat ironically considering where this uniform is exclusively used now. The sailor suit is obviously derived from the navy and you can definitely see it in this shot here from the anime, Shakugan no Shana (Top image). There's also been a trend more recently to go for uniforms like the ones often worn at western parochial schools which generally entail a nice shirt, a blazer, tie, and skirt or nice pants depending on whether the person is male or female. The men's version is shown here in this scene from Ouran Host Club. (Bottom picture. By the way, if you want to find out more, check out Wiki and I'm sure you can find more on the web or at the library.)

This isn't actually the school uniform Usagi wears on a daily basis,
but if you compare it with Kagome's uniform higher up,
the sailor scout costume is clearly influenced by school uniforms.
But most girl's don't actually have skirts that short, right?


From a female perspective. I am glad the answer is a resounding no. Although I know that there are plenty of guys who may at least privately beg to differ. (Perverts! ><) The really short skirt is much more common in anime comedies where perversion is one of the selling points, (such as in Tona-Gura! which I reviewed a few months back *shivers*) than in reality. Having actually seen some of these students walking around when I went to Japan, I can safely say that the actual uniforms over there are very conservative, and you'll only find the short-short skirts in places you probably wouldn't want to show your mother. There is a bit of a catholic school girl factor involved in this as male otakus seem to find something alluring about a pure young flower that has yet to be plucked...  I'm not going any further. Although I have heard that there is a significant population of male anime fandom that regularly collects Sailor Moon merchandise. Considering what she wears when she's off playing superhero... Well, you don't have to take my word for it, she's standing in the picture for this paragraph.

As you can see not an outside shoe in the mix, but still, poor Negi,
those girls might eat him alive if he lets them.
What are those white shoes everyone wears in the classroom?


From preschool age up to some colleges, students are not permitted to wear their regular shoes inside the buildings. This is clearly a holdover from back when all buildings had this regulation in Japanese custom. However, because of the sheer size of a building like a school, there's still going to be some dust and dirt getting kicked around, and so, schools require that you leave your street shoes at a recessed room with lockers called a genkan, and put on a pair of white indoor shoes called uwabaki. It's so that the stuff that does come in or falls on the floor, doesn't ruin everybody's socks. Each student will have their own pair of uwabaki that they purchase with their own uniform and is generally granted their own locker to keep it in. Teachers also generally have them, although they're probably allowed to be a bit nicer than the typical white shoes such as the ones we see in this scene from the anime, Negima. You'll also see this in private homes, where often the house shoes are slippers (in that case the owner of the residence will usually have spare slippers for guests, and in very old office buildings or converted apartment offices. There are exceptions at some more modern or western colleges and in places where such things would be impossible like department or convenience stores, or very public places like malls.

So there you have it. I'm sure there's questions I haven't explored, but if you can think of a topic you'd like to hear more about, feel free to put it in comments. I certainly don't mind suggestions. Until next time!

Images taken from Code Geass, Detective Conan, Inuyasha, Negima!, Ouran Host Club, Sailor Moon, and Shakugan no Shana

Monday, March 14, 2011

Amatsuki

Some people just have it rough. I mean, one day you're walking along in a history museum trying to make up for your bad grades when all of a sudden, you're in the era of the Bakumatsu, running for your life from a crazed and possibly rabid monster who just injured you grievously. As if that wasn't bad enough, you have no way of going home, and even if you have been given the ultimate game-breaking power, you have no idea how to use it, much less stop everyone around you from trying to kill each other...   if you happen to be Tokidoki Rikugou, then things probably can't get much worse. (As if having your first name being the Japanese word for "Sometimes" wasn't bad enough.) But at least the rest of us can still see properly out of both eyes. So strap on your virtual goggles and watch out for the Yakou as you go, today, we're taking a walk around Amatsuki.

The main cast, from left to right, Kuchiha, Tokidoki, and Kon.
Too bad Tokidoki'll be losing that eye-patch very soon,
I think it looks kinda cool.
I saw the first couple of episodes of this series a couple of years ago, and I really liked the premise behind it. Some guy getting trapped in a world that is supposed to be completely virtual and yet we're not quite sure (the VR goggles are quite clearly gone) has been done before but it's still an interesting concept and I had been disappointed at the time that I didn't get the chance to see more before now. The anime is based on a currently ongoing manga, also titled "Amtsuki" which first started running in the magazine Monthly Comic Zero Sum in 2005. It was produced by Studio DEEN and ran for 13 episodes on various networks between April and June of 2008. Unfortunately this show isn't actually licensed in the United States so those of us who are state side will just have to make do with the internet. While the story is good, and the characters are interesting, the plot is woefully incomplete and I really wish they had bothered to keep it going rather than just leaving the story hanging.

Tokidoki: Hmm...  this wasn't on the exhibit map...
And why is that animal looking at me like I'm it's dinner?...  
Our story begins with the introduction of our main character, who goes by the name of Tokidoki Rikugou. After having horribly failed history, he is required to go to a local museum to see a new high-tech virtual reality exhibit that focuses on Bakumatsu-era Edo as an assignment for summer school. After running into a fellow classmate, by the name of Kon Shinonome, he finds himself inexplicably attacked by a strange pair of monsters, one of which seems quite beastly in nature, while the other one seems somewhat humanoid but has claws and appears to be covered completely in bandages. In the ensuing fight, Tokidoki's VR goggles are torn off and his left eye is blinded, and at this moment he finds that he is no longer at the exhibit, and the Edo he had previously only seen through the goggles has become real. As he tries to comprehend this new turn of events, a girl with a katana shows up and fights off the monsters before Tokidoki loses consciousness. When he comes to, he finds himself reunited with Kon, who has apparently been trapped here for two years longer (due to the eccentricities of time travel allegedly) after also being attacked and losing the use of his right arm to the same monsters, and the two boys spend the rest of the series, along with Kuchiha, the girl who rescued Tokidoki, trying to fit into this strange version of Edo (called Amatsuki by the populous) while getting into plenty of trouble along the way.

In this universe, demons and spirits have their own ways too,
just like humans. All it takes is one bad step, and someone
might go on a rampage, like this poor fox who is soon to lose the tree
she cares about to a couple of wood cutters.
The world of Amatsuki is an interesting place. While the basic culture is definitely indicative of Edo during Japan's feudal period there are a significant number of differences that make it not quite like the history books, mostly related to the spiritual and demon-related aspects of the scenario. It seems that spirits such as the inari, and the traditionally more malevolent tengu have their own community alongside the human one, and while many of them are definitely troublemakers in the human realm not all of them necessarily hate humans or even really have anything against them. The more mundane ones seem to act like powerful, though mostly benign neighbors, and those that do have a beef with the mortals only seem to get angry because they feel like their being encroached on (not unlike how a lot of fights and wars start between normal human opponents in real life). Most of the demons that the characters have to face along the way seem more likely to be exceptions rather than the rule and even they seem to practice restraint as it appears to be common knowledge that hurting, killing and eating humans can drive a spirit totally crazy. Aside from that last caveat, it's really not unlike a more urbanized Feudal Era from the universe of Inuyasha. Except perhaps a bit more complicated because there doesn't seem to be a real villain in this this series until we get to the very last episodes.

A group meeting of the conspirators.
They sooo pranked that samurai. ^^
The three main characters seem to be reasonably complex and believable given the circumstances that they've been thrust into. Tokidoki is a go-along to get-along kind of person for the most part, but it's interesting that because he's from modern day Japan (and failed history) he knows virtually nothing about the social ins and outs of feudal Japanese society and therefore he gets himself into quite a bit of trouble over his own ideas about how people should be treated. This made for some fun altercations with some local samurai that really ballooned out of control early in the plot. The first one had a samurai who was bullying Kuchiha at the temple where Tokidoki was staying and because he didn't know that samurai could make your life miserable in a very real way during this time in history, he started a fight and was nearly skewered on a katana for his trouble. This resulted in a very funny prank later involving a primitive fire suit and ethanol. Kon serves as a mentor especially early on because not only was he studious in present day, he was also interested in history, and since he landed here two years ahead of Tokidoki, he's capable of providing wisdom gleaned from his own experiences getting familiar with everything the hard way. It's a good strategy from a plot oriented perspective. With Tokidoki serving as the viewer surrogate who knows nothing about the era he's landed in, Kon serves as a bridging character who can reasonably explain things without stretching the fourth wall too much. Finally, there's Kuchiha, a highly skilled swords-woman who fought off the monsters that attacked Tokidoki. She has an interesting back story as it turns out there is and inukami (basically a dog spirit/god) living in her body. Naturally, her personality incorporates a lot of dog-like tendencies, such as a healthy appetite, a strong loyalty to her friends, and a nearly wolfish tendency to protect them when their lives are in danger. However, being more or less possessed by a spirit of any kind has its drawbacks. For instance, most normal humans who don't know her treat her like dirt, or are afraid of her.

(Uncomfortable pause)......That's a guy?!
The supporting characters are fun in their own way though they aren't quite free from a number of traditional Japanese stereotypes, like Shamon, the head of the local Buddhist temple is a bit of a heavy drinker (though apparently not a lecher, surprisingly), and Kon's friend in Heihachi would probably count as the typically playful unskilled worker. There are apparently a couple of other nakamas wandering around, including the government's squad of special demon hunters, of which we only get to see a couple of members, and the priestesses and monks at the local Shinto shrine, out of whom we learn a lot more about what's going on. Interestingly, Ginshu, the head priestess is not actually a woman, but apparently, prior to taking the position, was actually a man. (Which definitely makes things awkward when Tokidoki and Kon are summoned to meet her er... him...   er... Goodness, even I'm confused! ><;) Not unlike Princess Mononoke, Nabari no Ou, and a number of well known Gundam series, this anime can almost be said to not have a true villain. At least at first. While there are clearly antagonists to the main party, such as the Yakou (that strange monster thing with the bell and bandages that attacks Tokidoki at the start of the story), and at first even the demons and spirits under the Tengu, Bonten's leadership might have seemed like they were going to be antagonistic, but at the end of the series, it's really, really hard to say.

The demon Nakama, made up of Tsuyukusa, Bonten,
and Utsubushi, are actually quite funny.
Especially in the last episode, which makes
the blatant cutoff even less pleasing. ><
After causing all the trouble with the samurai, the government sends a representative to escort Tokidoki who by this time has discovered he can see spirits with his bad eye, to the nearby Shinto shrine. Once there, after a major altercation with the local priestesses, and an ominous offer to Tokidoki, made by Bonten, to take their side in some argument, the party meets Ginshu, and he reveals that Tokidoki is possessed of an incredible and potentially game-breaking power. If he'd just learn how to use it at will, he could alter the space-time continuum of this world, called heavens net by the locals, which basically amounts to being able to summon items from nowhere, change the fate of other characters and completely alter events that were already established to happen. The reason Ginshu is so helpful on this point is that he/she/? wants to use his powers for some as of yet unexplained reason. After hanging out at the shrine for a little while, the rest of the series involves Tokidoki and Kuchiha gathering information in the neighborhood of Nihonbashi while Shamon the monk, and one of Bonten's followers, a tree spirit called Tsuyukusa, attempts to help a fox spirit who was servant to another tree spirit until the tree was cut down. After some serious drama trying to pull the fox out of revenge mode, it looks like we're finally getting to the meat of the story and it's only just revealed that Ginshu and Bonten both are looking to destroy God, or the Gods so that fate isn't so unchangeable, when all of a sudden...    Hang on, where's the rest of it?!...     Nooo!!!!!

Yes, that's right, they stopped the show right in the middle of the series. Didn't even bother to offer an apology or a closing statement. They just left this apple to rot on the branch, not unlike Kuchiha's family tried to do with her so that the inukami would no longer be passed on to anyone. I really hate it when a show does this. Especially if they weren't doing such a bad job getting you to care about the characters in the first place. I mean, there were times where I was even cheering for some of the minor characters like Shamon and Heihachi. I really wanted this one to keep going! Aside from that, the show wasn't doing a bad job. There were one or two dialog slip-ups. Like there was one point where a person who was an Amtsuki native used the word "robot" in a sentence which kind of threw me for a loop (as that is definitely a western loan word that had not even existed as we know it until 1920 so there's no way a Japanese person from this time period should know what that means), but mostly that's just me nitpicking. In terms of presentation, I think the anime studio did a pretty good job. The opening theme, "Casting Dice" by Yuuki Kanno (no, that is not a typo), and  the ending theme, "Namae no Nai Michi" by Kaori Hikita, are both very nice to listen to and I enjoyed them very much. The artwork and animation aren't particularly notable in being excellent or horrible but they do their job, and they do it well. Unfortunately for the English-only fans there is no licensed English dub out there, but those who are okay with subs should do just fine since the dub-work isn't half bad in Japanese. The cast is led by Jun Fukuyama (Lelouche in Code Geass) as Tokidoki, Koji Yusa (Gin Ichimaru from Bleach) as Kon, and Romi Park (Teresa from Claymore) as Kuchiha. If it weren't for the ending that wasn't an ending, I would have been able to give this one some decently high marks unless they used the missing half of the series to royally screw up. It was doing what it was supposed to do in terms of being entertaining and keeping the information rolling. It's a real shame that it ended in such a disappointingly abrupt manner. But I guess, if I were really desperate, I could have just hunted up the manga. And that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Amatsuki.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dangerous Characters: Revy

If you remember, a couple of months ago, when we reviewed Black Lagoon, the anime based off of Rei Hiroe's manga, the main character, Rock, got shoved into a real mess. You couldn't know who you trusted and everyone who wasn't overtly on your side may as well have be out to get you even if on the surface they weren't. It'd be easiest to say that everyone was dangerous under that circumstance, but really if you had to pick one truly dangerous character out of the bunch, it may as well be the party's resident sociopath. So let's give it up for our newest initiate. Revy can be a bit touchy, so don't make her mad, otherwise you'll find out why within the Thai Underworld she's earned the nickname "Two Hands."

Not much is currently known about Revy. Apparently she originated from Chinatown in New York city though currently she works as a mercenary aboard the PT boat, the Black Lagoon. She has a reputation that would even put some pirates to shame as she delights in running into the line of fire, guns blazing (usually destroying everything in her path) and makes no bones about killing civilians who might be in the way. A heavy drinker, as well as a heavy smoker, Revy is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Her preferred approach is always violent and blunt. You won't catch her doing most of the party's negotiating, if any of it. Strangely enough, this actually plays off of Rock's character very well, so if he's around, he may be able to help her see reason, just don't threaten him or hurt him in any way, otherwise you've just signed yourself a death sentence (she's the only one allowed to do that to him). There's also Dutch who may be the only one who has been able to come close to controlling her, and even he has problems sometimes. Should she ever be encountered (First, what the hell are you doing in such a dangerous place? Second, why are you getting involved with mercs?) it's probably best just to get out of there or failing that, hide, hopefully somewhere bulletproof. Those cutlass pistols of hers can be quite deadly. You have my sympathies friend, hopefully the bullets will stop flying sometime.

Image taken from Black Lagoon.